Preserver of Khasi melodies - Helen Giri earns kudos

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By E.M. JOSE in Shilong
  • Published 28.01.08

Shillong, Jan. 28: Her work involves crafting traditional Khasi musical instruments and this has brought back the music into the lives of physically challenged children.

The students of Helen Giri, who won the Padmashree for her efforts to promote Khasi music and culture, congratulated her at her residence in Mawlai Mawroh today.

Giri said she would like to take along her students, a majority of whom are speech and hearing impaired, for the awards ceremony. The students make traditional musical instruments like drums, varieties of flute and other musical instruments used in Khasi music and dances.

“It was a bold step for me to start training the physically challenged poor children who live at Mawlai,” Giri told The Telegraph. She initially started a workshop at her residence and later rented a portion of her neighbour’s building because of insufficient space.

The venture was started with funds from her pension.

“After retiring from North Eastern Hill University (Nehu) in 2006, I began training these students with money from my pension benefits so that they could stand on their feet,” Giri said. She gives Rs 2,500 per month to each student as a stipend.

Chief secretary Ranjan Chatterjee recently asked her to apply for government funds for the training and production of instruments, but she refused. “I don’t like to take funds from the government,” she asserted.

One of the students is an orphan, dependent on his sister. However, with Giri’s help, he is currently able to sustain himself. Another student, Harbart Warlarpih, who had once visited Japan to participate in a crafts festival, got only Rs 500 per month from the state government. Giri recognised his talent and provided him with a stipend of Rs 2,500 per month.

Some of the 11 students are doing their graduation, while others are studying in various schools. The musical instruments made by them are in demand both in the state and outside, with their drums even being sent to the US for sale.

The students are currently busy making small replicas of the instruments to be presented as mementoes during a church function. “I had neither given my bio-data to anyone nor craved national recognition. My work speaks for itself,” Giri said.

At least 35 institutes of traditional music and arts have come up in several villages as a result of Giri’s initiative. She has also organised traditional music festivals in many villages. Giri has also started making traditional Khasi attire, especially menswear, with symbols and pictures depicting the Khasi way of life.

She is also an executive board member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and a teacher of traditional art forms at Martin Luther Christian University.